Monday, September 19, 2011

Is facebook a research platform? And if so, how could we use it?

Stating the obvious social networks have changed communication among people as well as the communication between brands and their users significantly. And it is no secret that facebook is currently the largest social network (and according to this infographic will probably remain No. 1).

In times where communication channels change to that extent, this should however challenge market research. Because we are dependent on the communication between people to learn and explore with our entire tool box of methods, what people think, feel, and how they might behave.

Actually, the conditions for utilizing facebook for market research purposes are very good. Facebook as an internet platform is easy and always accessible from anywhere at any time. It reaches outs in a wide range of target audiences and markets. In most markets the penetration of the regular user base hits high double-digit percentages. And the typical question-answer logic is widespread among the users.

So the question is why this utilization works so poorly and nearly only from the social media monitoring perspective.

I have noticed a number of reasons for that. Here I will focus on three of them.

1. Market research is used to standardization, social networks are not to standardize
One of the main parameters of market research has been the degree of standardization of their tools. The lower the need for adjustment of solutions the higher is the value. This golden rule is now tried to be adopted on social networks and therefore on facebook. This is supposed to be a deadlock, for two reasons.  
First of all, because facebook is continuously changing and evolving, in certain areas with unnoticed changes, it is absurd to create standardized page templates. Requirements, guidelines and other conditions for pages are also changing constantly.
Second, facebook users show a communication behavior on the social network that can be controlled only in very, very few cases by someone in the role of a market researcher. Discussion paths, topics and content areas on the sides are specified, structured and extended by the users themselves,. This works well without a moderator.

2. The possibilities for the use of Facebook in the DIY market research mode are relatively comprehensive (Poll / Questions) and therefore there is no need for "real" market research 

Building "surveys" on facebook
Facebook is a platform that’s added values are mainly recognized and exploited by marketing departments. Mechanisms of market research, such as short polls and One-Question Surveys have always been popular within marketing departments to build relationship between brand and users. These modules are no substitute for market research with users of brand’s fan-sites on facebook . Many marketers, however, prefer the use of marketing-oriented marketing research methods on facebook. An understanding of the needs for "real" facebook-market research is only slightly developed.

3. Facebook is confused with community  
Though online research communities are a growing field in innovative research methods, there are clear differences between them and facebook. Facebook or a brand page on Facebook is not per se a research research community. A brand and fan page on Facebook can provide very good services for brand building and communication of brand content. They are very well suited to increase brand loyalty or brand engagement. But it is very difficult to achieve, that the user of a page do not only talk with the brand but talk with each other. Even those brands, which manage to do this, have only limited success in turning this conversation into real relationship

However, there are ways to get quick and easy information about users of facebook brand page. If you agree to the following methodological issues and assumptions, a survey on facebook is very useful:

- The target population is defines as people who have connected to a brand page by the "Like"-button. All results are only valid for this group and generalizations for brand users, potential, etc. should be treated with caution.  
- In order to control the response there is just the number of completed interviews. Since the population of the users is unknown in its structure, the set of participants with regard to their structure cannot be compared with anything. 
There are many use cases for such a research
- qualification of existing "fans" in order to learn more about their structure,
- evaluating and optimizing the Facebook pages,
- recruitment of research participants for studies outside of facebook, e.g. online research communities
- for sites with high "fan-numbers" special surveys in target groups which are in general very difficult to reach.
http://www.facebook.com/Lesetipp

For mein-lesetipp.de, Germany's leading facebook page dealing with books and reading, we have developed a number of different facebook surveys in the past. 
From our experience, above all you must ensure that the barriers for participation on this surveys are as low as possible. It is true that establishing the look and feel of the facebook environment is very important for users. But it is also true, that the use of applications are barrier, at least because of privacy reasons. Additionally, the use of apps on Facebook, as previously reported here, is below average.

In this research triangle of DIY, Social Media and Community Research, new potential and opportunities for market research occur. These issues are addressed at The Market Research Event in November 2011 in Orlando, Florida. It will be interesting, how our industry will talk about these issues on that conference organized the IIR, USA.

About the author: Christian Dössel is blogging about market research in German language here and here. After having worked for TNS, TBWA\ and other strategy and market research agencies he now holds the position of Senior Research Director at MM-Eye in Hamburg / Germany with special responsibilities for MM-Eye's new media and online research approaches.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

your infographic link is broken.

thanks!